By Adam Novak
Suffering apocalyptic visions of climate change, Good Day L.A.’s meteorologist DAISY DIAZ enrolls in a community college course to learn how to write a great script that will sell. When her classmates get murdered by a serial killer, she suspects the screenwriting professor, but what about the stalker lurking outside the TV station or the married police officer assigned to protect Daisy? The only way to survive? Take Franklin.
The circle of desk chairs inside DePalma Hall at College of Canyons reminds us of Mrs. K’s kindergarten class, a SLAA meeting at Farmer’s Market, or a Colorado super-max creative writing room. Written in cursive with chalk on the blackboard is the name of the Scream Writing 102 Instructor—
D E N N I S B E C K W O R T H
“How many of you heard about that White House chef turned assassin spec script that sold last week for $3 million?” asks Prof. Beckworth, cowboy boots, bolo tie, bushy white beard, Vietnam P.O.W., child labor law victim, Hal Needham’s favorite stuntman, Golden-Globe-winning screenwriter, heroin addict in prison, homelessness survivor, married four times, latest one barely speaks English.
“Abattoir Parsley,” says Clark Kent’s Millennial daughter in the front row, adjusting her Warby Parker eyeglasses.
“Very good,” says the eighty-year-old educator whose crinkly face resembles Obi-Wan’s scrotum. “Anybody got a better title?”
Prof. Beckworth waits sixty seconds, realizes none of his thirteen students will offer a brave suggestion.
“Raise your hand if you want to sell your script for three million bucks?”
Gen-Z hipster wearing a pork pie hat raises his hand with no shame. Warby Parker holds up her hand while covering an embarrassed smile.
“Get the fuck out of my classroom.”
What’d we do? thinks Gen-Z Hipster.
Wait, what? thinks Warby Parker.
The screenwriting pariahs gaze around the classroom for a burning bush of support. No one meets their eyes.
“Did I stutter?”
Warby Parker and Gen-Z Hipster make their way through the windowed classroom door.
“Don’t worry, your tuition will be debited right back into your Wells Fargo accounts tomorrow,” says Prof. Beckworth.
The door slams shut like Nagasaki.
“Anybody else come to class with a lottery mentality?”
Nolo Contendre, thinks the fifty-something accident lawyer from Calabasas skulking out of the classroom at College of Canyons.
The Scream Writing 102 professor bursts into laughter.
“I get a kick out of that every semester. You’ve heard of the Fantastic Four? You guys are the Hollywood Ten. I’m not a loon. I only want my students to be pure. No lottery mentality. You with me?”
We’re with you, thinks the Hollywood Ten.
“For those of you making sure you’re in the right class at College of Canyons at nine o’clock in the morning on a Saturday, welcome to Scream Writing 102. I once boarded a propeller plane to Modesto at SFO to go see my friend’s film premiere at Shockerfest and right before we took off, I asked the guy next to me what’s Modesto like? And he said, ‘Sonny, this plane’s headed for Medford, Oregon.’ I got on the right plane and my life was forever changed. There is no Scream Writing 101. You took the 101 to get here. This class is called 102 because everything that ever happened in your life up to this moment is your 101. Whatever you thought your script was about, your next draft is going to be emotionally autobiographical, you with me?”
Hundred percent, thinks the Hollywood Ten.
“Terrondus Oyelowabi? Did you bring your printed-out script to class?”
The beefy Nigerian who lost his Cruiserweight title in Berlin a year after knocking out the IBF Light Heavyweight champion in Spokane when he was supposed to be the opponent, thousand-watt smile, a pastry-chef culinary school drop-out-turned-screenwriter is “tired of being tired.”
Prof. Beckworth removes a brass brad from the middle cavity of the student screenplay.
“Never three brads. What’s your script called?”
“Great title, double-entendre, I hope. What’s the story?”
“Slammer’s about a suicidal pro fighter who starts training a movie star for an indie boxing film, goes twelve rounds with his homosexual feelings for his client while dating this paralegal ginger but she dumps his ass after a few lousy times in the sack, the fighter gets a shot at the WBC cruiserweight division title but loses everything after the movie star calls him a fag in the ring and beats his client to death. After he gets sent to the penitentiary, the fighter becomes a champion fighting death matches run by a sadistic warden, who he ends up killing too.”
“Now say a line on a movie poster what it’s really about.”
“Kay-O your demons.”
I’d do him, thinks thirty-eight-year-old omnisexual Rawson Reynolds, Daisy’s confident colorist and confidant at KTLA, awaiting his future as millionaire baseball cap-backwards schmendrick with opposable thumbs (think Jake Hoffman) in the self-penned movie version of himself.
“Very good,” says the professor. “Stefani Dupin, tell us which demons you wish to Kay-O over the next eight weeks.”
Currently suspended from the force, destroyed, thirty-nine year old femicide detective Dupin wipes her left nostril, sleeves her sweaty forehead, and snuffles her runny nose.
“My script (sniff!) is about a coke-addled police officer whose family of cops (sniff!) defends itself on Thanksgiving from a home invasion (sniff!) by a gang of escaped convicts out to get the family that put them away. I’m calling it Turkey Legs.”
“Sounds apocryphal,” says Prof. Beckworth.
I’d do her, thinks Dante Hazard, forty-one, Iron Man triathlete, prime of his life, sets his mind, comes to fruition every time.
“Dante Hazard, introduce us to your script.”
“Lambs of God, based on a true story. In 1959, Albert Camus travels to a remote island off the coast of Sweden to collaborate on a script based on his play Caligula for Academy Award-winning director Ingmar Bergman. They never saw each other again. The screenplay they wrote made Premiere’s Best Unproduced List in 1993.”
“Not a list you want to be on,” says Prof. Beckworth. “Mildred Atkins, what do you have for us?”
“Hi everyone. My screenplay is called Business Affairs, It’s an E&M thriller about an inter-racial L.A. couple in an open marriage or as it is called nowadays, Ethically-Non-Monogamous. Novelist Matt Rosen has a Vietnamese manicurist/sugar baby on his payroll while his publicist wife Edna is having an affair with a business affairs exec. Sugar baby and business affairs exec agree to murder swap their lovers but E&M join forces, turn the tables, and save their marriage.”
“If Strangers on a Train had a threesome with sex lies and videotape and Fatal Attraction, it would be Business Affairs,” says Prof. Beckworth.
“Eggs-actly,” says Mildred Atkins.
That’s the best one, thinks Dante Hazard.
“Thor Rosenthal. You’re next.”
Slavic features, splintered teeth, the twenty-seven-year-old aspiring David Fincher oozes indie cred waving his printed-out screenplay like Max von Sydow in Georgetown.
“My script is called Deathbed, about a married couple trapped in a zombie marriage after they catch bed death because the husband can’t fuck her with his curved dick until he gets surgery, but they can’t afford the operation until she sells her car to straighten his thing out so then, they order this new mattress that turns out to be from Hell. Every night at 3:33 AM they set up a camera to record the poltergeists haunting them.”
“Who sold them the bed, the Devil?”
“The wife is haunted, not the mattress.”
“How do they unfuck the bed?” asks Prof. Beckworth.
“They turn on the camera, make a sex tape, and reverse the curse.”
“Writing is a lot like the medical experiments of Dr. Moreau. Just like Moreau took his island animals and made them more human, writers take their raw material and shape them into stories. Sometimes Moreau’s DNA experiments, like our writing, goes wrong. We try to mold our experiences into something coherent, something meaningful, but sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes the pieces don’t fit together, or the story falls flat, or the characters just lay there. And yet, we keep creating, we keep trying to compose that perfect combination of words and ideas to make writing come alive, you with me?”
Yes, thinks the Hollywood Ten.
“What is the Law on this Island?” asks Prof. Beckworth. “Not to be boring, that is the law. What is the Law? Write a lead role dimensional enough to hook a star, that is the law. Number three: Surround your lead with fantastic supporting characters. Number four: Write a grabber opening. Number five: Write fantastic dialogue, that is the law. Number six: Every ten pages, hit your lead with a Quaketm, it can be a kiss or a catastrophe, that is the law. Number seven: Anything you set up in act one (a gun, character beat, or piece of kryptonite) has to pay off in act three, that is the law. Number eight: The ending leaves you breathless or you’re dead. Number nine: I forget. Number ten: You’re only as good as your title. Ashley Pink. Is that your Starbucks name?”
No response from the tattooed twenty-two-year-old/ninety-nine pound magenta-haired/Euphoria eye make-up participant in over twenty videos the Feds declared obscene and AVN winner for Best New Starlet.
“Tell us your script in twenty-five words or less.”
“I’m calling it The Meese Report.”
That’s six, thinks Dante Hazard.
“We open with a chick from Oslo named Thot Matrix looking for her sister who’s gone missing inside the adult film industry and finds herself on set getting choked unconscious by extreme porn director Gianni Roastbeef. How did we get here? Thot Matrix follows the trail of her sister’s blood to this disgusting trap house in Van Nuys run by a psychotic porn actress, the same complex where her sister lived owned by Gianni Roastbeef before she vanished. Thot Matrix goes on set in the desert and becomes notorious for an epic meltdown after Gianni Roastbeef pisses on her, chokes her out, which she later finds out is exactly how her sister was murdered. Thot Matrix survives the desert shoot, starts escorting with her roommate Karma Bitch and falls in love with her driver Digby, a lounge singer at the new Lava. When Karma disappears from a farewell shoot in Vegas courtesy of Gianni Roastbeef, Thot and Digby rally a steroidal crew of Karma’s exes to save Karma from a snuff film inside the penthouse of the Wynn, avenge her sister’s death, and send Gianni Roastbeef to Hell.”
“Does it have to be Karma who goes missing?”
“What do you mean?” asks Ashley Pink.
“Instead of Karma, what if Gianni Roastbeef snatched Digby?”
“Why would they snatch the driver?”
“That’s for me to ask and you to figure out, Ashley.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Karma Bitch & Thot Matrix sound like Butch & Sundance.”
“Awesome,” says Ashley Pink.
“You haven’t executed the note yet.”
“Next class I want avenging angels in Sin City with a better title. If any of you skip an assignment, miss a deadline or your rewrite fails to engage, you will get a DNR.”
“What’s that?” asks Daisy Diaz.
“Do Not Resuscitate. You with me?”
Hell yeah, thinks Terrondus.
“Like Dr. Moreau, we are going to experiment on this island together. We are going to push the boundaries of what’s possible. And in doing so, we will become more than just writers. Rawson Reynolds. What is your script about and what are you calling it?”
“Okay, mine’s called Insecticide. It’s a hard-R live-action/animated hybrid about a bug exterminator who wakes up as a cockroach. With the help of a blind samurai caterpillar, she escapes a motel where roaches check in, but they don’t check out, then she slaughters an army of red ants and proceeds to liberate the grass kingdom like Boudicca from her pest control boss. At the end, she morphs back into a Bridezilla right before her Positano destination wedding.”
Fuck that’s good, thinks Dante Hazard.
Where’s my checkbook? thinks Socrates Wolinsky.
The kind worth killing for, thinks Liam Everett.
“I know it needs a ton of work,” moans the stylist-slash-scribe with a swimmer’s body and buzz cut.
“What’s your roach’s name?” asks Prof. Beckworth.
“Her name’s Murphy.”
“Somebody throw out a better title. Anybody?”
Nobody knows anything.
Startling everybody, Prof. Beckworth stabs a finger at Daisy Diaz, who screams for her life and dives onto the classroom floor.
Trauma, much? thinks Ashley Pink.
Daisy Diaz apologizes for her (over)reaction, clambers into her desk chair. “How about Murphy’s Law?”
“Very good.” Prof. Beckworth hoists a Black & Gold Montblanc Le Grand. “Liam Everett, this is your script. Sell me this pen.”
The junky-thin Irishman, expired work visa, shoulder-length greasy hair, torn jeans and HUMAN LIVES MATTER T-shirt, reveres the ballpoint quill like the Shroud of Turin.
“My script is called A Kidney to Remember. Guy wakes up from a kidney transplant which he got after his wife donated one of her kidneys to a total stranger so he could move up the list of kidney recipients. When Michael wakes up a doctor tells him his wife slipped in the hospital waiting room, cracked her head open, and died. Five years later the guy is a shell of his former self, he’s lost everything, including the will to live. Michael goes from being a successful patent attorney to working as a busboy in a club in Dublin where he leads a lonely, undignified life. He falls in love with this twenty-two-year-old club singer whose dream is to win Ireland’s Got Talent. Next thing you know they’re going on a date at her favorite doner kabob place to eat piss-head food. Next thing you know the first time they make love they notice they both have scars over their kidneys. Next thing you know they are talking about what an incredible coincidence they both had kidney transplants. Next thing you know Zoey wins her audition, he starts working at a Dublin law firm as a paralegal, she gets booted off Ireland’s Got Talent, and starts drinking. Next thing you know they’re fighting, and she confesses to Michael that she tracked him down after she learned her kidney donor had died before she could thank her. Zoey becomes a star when her Ireland’s Got Talent performance goes viral and she writes a song about Baby Fae, the world’s first infant who got a heart transplant from a baboon and only lived one day. Next thing you know Michael wakes up from his colonoscopy in Los Angeles and we realize this entire story came to him while he was under sedation. When he sees the phlebotomist who found his vein, the one who made him feel at ease, the one who inspired this love story that never happened, her name-tag says Zoey. A smile forms on Michael’s face and we slam to black.”
“Liam, did this happen to you?”
“No, my twin brother.”
“Daisy Diaz, what’d you bring today?”
“Chance of Showers.”
“Chance of Showers. How very Australian New Wave of you.”
“Thank you,” says Daisy Diaz.
“That was a comp, not a compliment. Title needs work.”
“Chance of Murders.”
“Better. Keep going.”
“Cassie’s an Emmy-winning meteorologist who suffers severe hallucinations of climate change on-air that go viral on Tik-Tok so management makes her weekend co-anchor hoping for more wig-outs.”
“What are the visions really saying, Daisy?”
“Atmospheric rivers in the sky as a metaphor for a disastrous personal life?”
“Did you just make that up?”
Silence from Daisy Diaz.
“What else is Cassie dealing with other than apocalyptic visions? Think of something. Anything, come on, whatever pops into your head.”
The yellow light turns red, she thinks.
Daisy slams the accelerator.
So does the black Cherokee.
Driver’s side mirror on Mulholland.
The half-windowed silver Chevy van.
“Maybe she has a stalker. Maybe my grabber opening should be the stalker chasing me down Mulholland, I mean, Cassie.”
“Very good. What happens before the stalker?”
“You mean, like, on page one?”
What’s Page Zero? thinks Terrondus.
Page (sniff!) what? wonders Stefani Dupin.
“I don’t understand,” says Daisy Diaz.
“What happens to Cassie before the movie begins?”
“She was a Final Girl in college.”
“A Final Girl?” asks Prof. Beckworth.
“You know, those Giallo movies where the girl survives the masked killer.”
“Maybe your killer’s still out there,” says Prof. Beckworth. “With all those wonderful people in the dark.”
“Maybe her stalker and the serial killer are the same guy?”
“Is any of that in your script?”
“It is now,” says Daisy Diaz.
“Socrates Wolinsky. What’s your script called?”
“Un-Alive,” says the bald/goateed writer-director-editor-composer (think Anton LaVey) born, bred, and buttered in Lake Elsinore.
“What’s the premise of Un-Alive?”
“It’s basically ‘Reservoir Zombies’ about a bunch of two-strike thieves who rob this booby-trapped Name of The Rose monastery where the monks have taken a vow of silence and a virus gets unleashed inside the Abbey that makes everyone anti-Vegan.”
“Socrates, just because it’s a zombie picture doesn’t mean it can’t be emotionally autobiographical.”
“Let’s make your script better than your unbeatable title.”
“You saying my script sucks?”
“I’m saying make it scream.”
“K, like how?”
“Do you have any idea what it’s like to raise a child?”
“I know what’s it’s like to lose one.”
“Son or a daughter?” asks Prof. Beckworth.
“My daughter’s six feet under.”
“I had mine cremated. Keep going.”
“Really. How’d your daughter die?” asks Socrates Wolinsky.
“Raped and murdered. Yours?”
“Drove her car into a telephone pole.”
“Socrates, why the hell isn’t she in your screamplay?”
“Maybe this zombie heist isn’t a mea culpa to my daughter for the childhood I selfishly neglected until we buried her.”
“Maybe it should be.”
“Why would I do that to my script?”
“Do you want to win or not?
Adam Novak is the author of the novels Rat Park, Freaks of the Industry, Take Fountain, and Take Franklin. He divides his time between Beachwood Canyon and Fort Washington, Maryland.